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Lessons from COMMON: Part 1

July 12, 2016

As I was sitting in the airport after the COMMON Conference a few weeks ago, I tweeted a few thoughts: a few lessons I felt one could take away from the largest gathering of IBM i people in the western hemisphere in 2016 (and perhaps the world depending on how big the conference in Japan is this year).

After my five “lesson” tweets, I tweeted this:

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Well, the good folks at IBM Systems Magazine have politely reminded me that I never did turn those tweets into a blog. So, here it is! Twitter limits me to 140 characters for each lesson, but I can say a bit more in a blog, so let’s combine the two, shall we?

Lesson 1

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One of the great things about going to COMMON every year is getting to meet up with friends and acquaintances who also attend regularly. These “regulars” have already learned this lesson, and it’s one of the reasons they come to the conference every year. They – well actually “we” – get energized. But more importantly, every time I go to COMMON, I meet people who have never been to the conference before, and when I run into them after they’ve had a day or two to absorb the sessions and the expo area, they are all excited by what they’ve learned. I know spending a week away from work sounds like it will “cost” you something, but based on what actually happens to people when they spend their time learning and mingling, I can pretty much assure you it’s an “investment” more than a “cost.”

Now, if you can’t get to COMMON, or you don’t want to wait for next year, there are other events where you can get some of that same excitement. Local IBM i user groups around the world host such events. COMMON Europe was in Stockholm, the iSUC conference will be in Niigata, Japan, I was in Wyboston Lakes, England last month, OMNI and OCEAN and the New York area user groups are all planning events on an on-going basis. And, by mentioning those groups by name, I have inadvertently left out many, many other groups – if you’re looking for one, get on LinkedIn or Twitter or midrange and ask about something in your area. (Toronto! TUG. St. Louis! Gateway. Michigan! MITEC. Sweden! Data3. Come on, brain, think of more!)

Even better! Participants in local user groups who read this blog should post the name of their LUG and the link to contact information as comments here. Let’s do it, people! Rather than get offended that I forgot you, just remind me, and everyone else.

We want to spread the enthusiasm we get at COMMON to all the local user groups around the world.

Lesson 2

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What did I mean by that? Well, the number of people who still don’t use search engines to find information about our platform surprises me. When they say “Where do I find information about [some IBM i thing]?” it becomes clear they haven’t used a search engine—(Can I just say “Google” and you’ll all know what I mean, without assuming I’m endorsing one particular company?)—not just for this question, but for most of the technology related questions they have.

On the other hand, if someone frequently uses Google to answer their technology questions, they already seem to where they can find great information about IBM i – developerWorks, Redbooks, the Knowledge Center, and so on.

The point I was trying to make (and not very well, in 140 characters) is that people who still expect IBM to deliver them all the information about the platform in some single repository are missing something. First of all, I’m not sure IBM ever did that (even in the days of printed books stacked 5 feet high) but secondly, much of the information we produce links to other information, and changes frequently enough that we count on people using search engines to find it.

You’re reading a blog. That probably means you’re already Googling to find technical information. Good for you. Could we at IBM be doing better at making IBM i information easier to find through searches? I’m sure we could. But don’t let that stop you. Give us feedback where searches are not helping as much as they could. (The COMMON Europe Advisory Council gave us some of this feedback in June. Thanks!)

And continue to use online searches! It’s the assumed method of finding things these days. Home pages are also helpful, and as I mentioned last time, those are good places to start when you want to see the latest. But for things you missed: search.

Lesson 3

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RPG and IBM i are connected. It’s a fact. Though you can write applications on IBM i in many, many languages (which people do; just wait for Lesson 4), the single most widely used language is still RPG. Over the past several years, we’ve put a significant amount of work into making RPG easier to learn, and easier to use, than it was in its distant history. I talk to people all the time who are concerned that all the old RPG programmers are retiring, and they have that concern partially because they don’t know that a new crop of RPG programmers can be grown by teaching modern RPG to developers who know other languages.

Now, this is a message we’ve been trying to get out there, especially since the delivery of “free format” RPG in 2014, but for many people, the thing that really sells them on the viability of the “teach RPG to existing developers” approach is to see it in action, and COMMON has done a great job of providing opportunities to see it.

You can get the same kind of proof by reading Jon & Susan’s iDevelop blog, or by talking to other industry experts like Paul Touhy or Charlie Guarino. But the point is, if you are concerned about whether your existing RPG code can be maintained and extended into the future, you can be assured there is a path for you, and it’s well-worn by now, because lots of people have walked the path already. And many of them talk about it at user conferences like COMMON.

More to Come

Well, this blog has gotten long enough. I am going to have to split it into two. I’ll have the second installment soon, but meanwhile, I hope you’ve gotten some idea of the benefits you’ll get by coming to COMMON, or user groups where IBM i is discussed.

Until then, keep up the IBM i energy!

Posted July 12, 2016 | Permalink

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